How the Light Gets In

An interactive installation highlighting the experiences and wisdom of formerly incarcerated women at the Spencer Museum of Art and Lawrence Public Library

There are fragments of wisdom everywhere.

How the Light Gets In is an interactive art installation in two parts — offered at Lawrence Public Library and the Spencer Museum of Art — and exploring themes of learning and knowledge, chance encounters, and finding wisdom in unexpected places.


Created by Sarah Newman and the metaLAB team and developed in collaboration with Professor Hyunjin Seo and the KU Center for Digital Inclusion, this project builds on the work of Professor Seo and her team with formerly incarcerated women reentering society. Newman and the KU team developed the project through a combination of conversations and creative workshops with these women.

The installation poses questions about who holds knowledge and wisdom and who is situated to teach or transmit that knowledge to others. The work also explores the role of chance, or luck, in a person’s life. The myth that hard work and determination are sufficient for success ignores individuals’ circumstances that are beyond their control. Over the past year, the women in the reentry program participated in workshops and conversations with Newman to contribute their words as the text that is displayed and printed in both sites, and which will intermingle with the reflections of museum-goers and library patrons. In this way, informed by the wisdom of the women in the program as well as of the audience, the exhibition encourages viewers to approach others with compassion, curiosity, and humility.

The installation at the Spencer Museum includes a 360 degree text-based projection of the women’s wisdom projected onto theater scrim, animated and dreamlike, it also includes six alcoves that museum-goers can enter to submit their own knowledge to the expanding corpus of text that mysteriously prints in the gallery ceiling and falls to the floor. One of the alcoves contains a “reading nook” with a selection of books by artists, scholars, and writers on themes of incarceration, oppression, and power.

At the Lawrence Public Library, the exhibit occupies the library atrium, where eight selected texts from the women inscribe the columns of the atrium. The library installation also includes custom designed lighting, an interactive station where library patrons can contribute their own knowledge to the database, and a printer that will print content submitted by the women, by the museum-goers, and by the library patrons. The librarians also have created a special selection of books and media, which will be available in the atrium in the seating area of the exhibition.

Team

Leads: Sarah Newman (art) & Hyunjin Seo (research) Design: Juliana Castro, Sabrina Madera, Sonia Ralston, Jade Wu
Facilitation: Darcey Altschwager, & Annalise Baines Research: Asa Hadley
Tech: Max Lever & Daniel Feist
Sound: Halsey Burgund
Animation & Projection: Antonieta Bocxe & Josh Heckathorn-Lane
Curatorial: Joey Orr, Spencer Museum of Art, Heather Kearns, Lawrence Public Library

Contributors to this work include Agnes Lambert, Audrey, Brittania McKnight, Carol Long, Cassandra Rosine, Cassandra Taylor, Charisa Chairozaim, Jodi R Whitt, JSSV, Kathyrn Skirvin, Kim Gardner, Kitty, LaTisha Fouch, Linda Swopes, Marilyn Chaney, Michelle Prettyman, Phoenix rose from the ashes!, Rebecca Riedel, Sabrena Morgan, Samantha Jo Archer, Sehara A Hays, Sonja M. West, Stacey Johnson, Tameeka Allen, Tamiko Grandison, Tanesha W., Tosh, and additional contributors who chose to remain anonymous.

This project is a collaboration between metaLAB (at) Harvard, the KU Center for Digital Inclusion, the Spencer Museum of Art, and the Lawrence Public Library. It is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission, the Mellon Foundation, and the Linda Inman Bailey Exhibitions Fund.

The Shell Garden

An interactive installation along the Somerville Community Path, August-October, 2022.

Made of reclaimed, laser-engraved wood, and found seashells from the artist’s collection. Supported by the Somerville Arts Council Fellowship and the Massachusetts Cultural Council. 

Special thanks to Sonia Ralston, Sabrina Madera, Asa Hadley, and Shreya Tewari.








Everything comes from and returns to the earth.


Oceans around the world are increasing in water temperature, which has drastic consequences for the entire marine ecosystem. This includes coral bleaching, when coral discharges its algae and turns a white color, severely weakening the coral and the thousands of species that rely on its health. The accelerated melting of polar ice caps has increased the salinity of some areas of the ocean, which threatens the ecosystem of zooplankton, the catalyst of success for the marine food chain. At the same time, industrial fishing companies are overfishing, and factories around the world are dumping toxic waste and garbage into the ocean. With this increase of plastic pollution, ocean biodiversity decreases.

Global warming has also destroyed the habitats of many marine animals. For example, the number of mollusks in the Mediterranean Sea has decreased significantly over the last few decades. In addition to rising sea temperatures, marine animals face other climate change threats as well, such as harmful noises from fuel and cargo ships that interfere with echolocation by marine mammals. Climate change has also perpetuated harmful ocean acidification. As the ocean absorbs atmospheric CO2, it reacts with the seawater. High levels of acidity have proven very harmful against marine animals, coral, and other lifeforms. The rising sea level will not only affect the residents of the water, but also people on land.

By 2050, rising sea levels will affect over 570 cities, and by 2100, the higher sea level will threaten 200 million people who live in low coastal areas. Be mindful of your own consumption, waste, and carbon footprint. If you can, donate to programs that clean the oceans, and encourage  your political representatives to focus on the climate crisis.


Credits
Studio assistants: Sonia Ralston & Sabrina Madera
Research assistant: Asa Hadley
Installation companion & photos: Shreya Tewari
& The Somerville Arts Council Fellowship & the Massachusetts Cultural Council


Sources
Broom, Douglas. “This is how climate change is impacting the ocean - and what we can do about it.” The World Economic Forum, 11 May 2021. 

Cross, Daniel T. “Climate change is driving mollusks extinct in the eastern Mediterranean.” Sustainability Times, 12 January 2021. 

McCarthy, Joe. “Climate Change Is Devastating Marine Life as the World's Oceans Warm: Report.” Global Citizen, 7 April 2021. 

Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. “Climate change and the ocean.” MBARI, 2019.

National Geographic. “Ocean Impacts of Climate Change.” National Geographic Society, 20 May 2022.



Moral Labyrinth

Would you trust a robot trained on your behaviors?
How will we know when a machine becomes sentient?
What does it mean to be moral?

As machines get smarter, more complex, and able to operate autonomously in the world, we’ll need to program them with certain “values.”

Yet we do not agree on what we value: across cultures, across individuals, even within ourselves. We often do not act in accordance with what we say we value, so should these systems learn from what we say or what we do? What are the implications of how our current belief systems manifest in the swiftly approaching technological future? As we anticipate such change, can we use this technological moment to become more honest, humble, and compassionate?

Moral Labyrinth is an interactive art installation that takes shape as a physical walking labyrinth, comprised of philosophical questions, and an individualized “digital” labyrinth on an accompanying laptop. The work is a meditation on perennial—and now particularly pressing—aspects of being human. Engaging with the difficult task of aligning values, it gently reveals the gravity of the problem, and creates an open space to reflect on questions. It also hopefully allows us to see our own values more honestly and critically, as a first step toward any solution.

Visit the Moral Labyrinth website to submit your own question.



Exhibitions


Rainbow Unicorn, Berlin. Part of Transmediale Vorspiel
January-February, 2018, paneled wall mural

Ars Electronica Festival, Linz, Austria
September, 2018, walking labyrinth and interactive digital experience

Mozfest, Ravensbourne University, London
October, 2018, Walking labyrinth made entirely of baking soda

Community Bike Path, Somerville, MA
December 2018.

WeRobot, University of Miami, April 2019, with Jessica Fjeld.

Moral Labyrinth Workshop. RightsCon, Tunis, June 2019, with Mindy Seu and Jie Qi. 

Moral Labyrinth, Northeastern School of Law, Boston, forthcoming, April 2020.



Special thanks to Black Cat Labs for the wonderful laser cutting work.




The Future of Secrets

Are secrets uniquely human? Our private lives are mediated and recorded by digital devices. Where are our secrets now? How will intelligent systems of the future process the data we leave behind? Will they know things about us that we don’t (and never could) know about ourselves?


The Future of Secrets is an immersive experience that includes sound, projection, and interaction; the installation asks participants to anonymously share their secrets as a way to question the trust we place in machines, and ultimately reflect back our own humanness. What does it mean for us to share so much of ourselves through complex systems and digitally distributed networks? What kind of logic or intelligence is behind a screen? Who or what is watching or reading our words? The installation is an opportunity to be immersed in secrets, and inspires delight, surprise, and reflection while evoking questions about uncertain technological futures.

Secrets website
--> interview and video

Exhibitions
The Museum of Fine Arts Boston, 2016
Re:publica Berlin, GERMANY 2017
ESC Atelier Rome, ITALY 2017
Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge 2017
Hacking Arts at the MIT Media Lab, Cambridge 2017
ACUD Berlin, GERMANY 2018
Rainbow Unicorn Berlin, GERMANY 2018
South by Southwest, Austin, 2018
Digital Cultures Conference, Warsaw, POLAND 2018
Northeastern School of Law, Boston, 2019


Produced in collaboration with creative technologist Jessica Yurkofsky & data scientist Rachel Kalmar.


The Myth of Agency


"Ultimately, nothing or almost nothing about what a person does seems to be under his control." -Thomas Nagel, Moral Luck


The Myth of Agency is an interactive installation that explores human and non-human agency, whether and how we make choices, and what implications this has in an increasingly complex technological world. Installation elements include sound, video, photography, participant interaction, moving objects, and water.

The work calls into question some basic assumptions about human agency. Machines, for example, are causal, mechanistic, bound by their programming. Yet we see ourselves as different. What forces guide our actions? As our machines become more intelligent and we ourselves become more networked, what does it mean to have agency? Is it merely a useful myth, or is there something particular - even if inscrutable - about what it means to be human?